Our Christmas In Boquete…

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This has been our second year to celebrate Christmas here in Boquete. It was nice. I keep trying to figure out what to tell you about our holidays here. I find that I’m torn between writing about how great it feels to get to spend my time and money on buying small gifts for those who can’t afford to buy the things I gave them, and telling you about that dull ache in my heart that comes from being far from friends and family. I don’t think that I will ever stop missing people who are now so far away. And while I find such joy in creating new holiday traditions that have meaning to me, there’s always that little tug at my heart that comes from wondering what everyone is doing back in California. I love that We get to begin new traditions and that we also get to decide just how our Christmas will look and what we’ll do to make this time of year feel rewarding and meaningful. We’re not limited to celebrating the holidays in any particular way, no obligations, we’re in the process of creating our very own, brand new traditions. Traditions take time to establish and so far we don’t have many. But a couple of things just might stick and become things we do each year. One is the holiday Fundraising BBQ that Keith & Julian host each year on Christmas Eve to benefit an organization called Buenos Vecinos. Buenos Vecinos collects money to help feed needy families in our community. We went last year and then again this year and its a great way to spend Christmas eve. They have live music and they BBQ steaks, everyone pays $15.00 to attend and you bring a dish to share, either an appetizer, a side dish or a desert. We bring a couple of bottles of wine and our lawn chairs and we usually like to find a quiet place to sit and relax. Last year and this year we’ve really enjoyed this event, just sitting outside on a nice warm evening, with a great view of the huge pine trees and good music to listen to as we sip our wine, along with lots of really friendly people to chat with is a great way to spend a Christmas Eve. Its really very low key and easy, not a bad tradition , I think we’ll keep this one!

Is there anything better than laughter? I don’t think so! This year was the second year I got to go to Terry & Manzar’s Holiday White Elephant gift exchange. Seriously, I just love seeing all the wacky things people come up with at these parties. And T & M always gather a ton of great people. Its fun to catch up with some who I haven’t seen since last year. Add to the good company , lots of yummy food along with tons of laughter and what more could you want! Sadly, Scott couldn’t come with me this year, the party was during the day on a Tuesday and he couldn’t leave his workers so I had to go alone. I’m sure he’ll get to go next year though. Before living here I had always heard people talk of White elephant parties but I don’t think I had ever gone to one, and Its fun. I usually think about what to bring throughout the year. Yes, this is a holiday tradition I really enjoy and look forward to.

The other thing that we did this year which I’d love to keep doing, at least as long as we have employees working for us. Of course when we finally finish our big construction project we won’t have so many employees. Who knows, maybe we’ll still have a gardener or someone around to help us with maintenance around the property. For a holiday bonus we bought all our guys new work boots. This may sound like a boring gift but let me assure you these guys really appreciated the new boots. When you only make between $21-29.00 a day, a pair of $29.99 work boots is not something you will spend your money on. They all have families to support and so they will wear shoes until they are literally falling apart. Of course it wasn’t something I could surprise them with because I had to make sure all eight guys had the right size boots. So I spent one day bringing up several different sizes and making them try them on. Luckily we have a really great construction supply store in town called Ivan, who Scott and I have developed a very good relationship with. Selena, the wife of the owner of the store, is incredibly nice to us. She was very accommodating as I went back and forth exchanging boots and trading different sizes. A couple of the guys told me one size and then the next day told me that they really wanted a different size…ugh! No problem Selena just let me trade for the right size. After making sure I had all the right sizes I wrapped them all up in pretty Christmas paper and bought about a case and a half of beer in preparation for a little holiday gathering. Nothing big, we just had them all stop by the house and join us for a beer and open their gifts. They were thrilled to end their day this way and expressed lots of gratitude. Mind you, we may never see them wear these new boots to work, they will likely be their ‘dress up’ shoes, but thats okay. It makes me happy to know we did something for these hard working men that they maybe could not or would not do for themselves. Yep, this to me, feels like a good tradition to keep.

And then there’s the children! Oh the kids just melt my heart! I know, I’m a nut…I can’t help it. Helping my friend Lyn with her holiday fiesta in Rambalita is to me one of the most rewarding of traditions. This year it was much bigger than it was last year and I must admit it was, at times, a bit overwhelming. The kids were all wonderful, but there were some parents that made the experience a bit nerve racking, I kinda wished it were just the kids, that would have been much more fun. There are just so many people and its hard to keep track of which children have received a gift and which ones are being prompted by their parents to try to get as much as they can. Ugh! But, even with this bit of disappointment I can’t help but love spending my time making these kids feel special and important. The smiles just make my Christmas. And spending the day practicing my Spanish with the kids is so much fun. I had a couple adorable little boys who hung out with me and just could not stop telling me how pretty my hair is, my bracelet, my necklace, my glasses and on and on and on….talk about feeling adored! I just loved them. One of the boys had on a spiderman shirt and they all kept showing me how they could do the Spiderman thingy with their fingers, you know how spider man spins his web with his hand…yea! Too darn cute! The gifts we brought these kids were the only gifts they would be getting, I’m sure. Yes, this is another tradition that makes me feel like my time and money was well spent….

I have written about our indigenous neighbors who live down at the bottom of our driveway. They are a very poor family with 6 kids. Often the kids or the parents will walk up to the house we are currently living in and they will use the outside electrical plugs to charge their cell phones. So, the kids come up fairly frequently and I get to chat with them now and again. When I first began spending a little time with the kids I had a hard time seeing the poverty that they live in. They live in a lean-to, its part scraps of wood, part corrugated metal, and part cement blocks. It has a dirt floor, and no electricity or running water. This is not uncommon for indigenous families who come to live in Boquete from the Comarca. Comracas are similar to what we know of in the states as the Indian Reservations. Most of the Indigenous who come to Boquete are here to work on the coffee fincas during the harvest time, picking and preparing the beans. But there are many, like our neighbors, who stay here and find work all year rather than returning to live on the commarca. The children get a much better opportunity for better education and they have much more opportunities for work here in Boquete. So, I’ve gotten to get to know this family and I’m learning how to better understand and accept their culture, which is so very different from my own. I’m coming to understand more and more, that , (in my opinion anyways), its important not to feel that I need to ‘fix’ the way that they live their life. This feeling or assumption that the way I’m accustomed to living is how they should live and would be better for them , just makes me look as though I believe I am superior to them. This is, not how I want to think or to be. I’m really trying to live with my neighbors in a loving, caring, generous manner, just as I would with my neighbors in Los Altos. This is one of the things about living here that has been a challenge for me and one aspect of my new life that I’m still trying to come to terms with. I feel like I’m making a lot of progress but believe me, I’ve got a lot to learn and I am certain I’ll shed even more tears as I grow and learn about this very new reality in my new life.

I really wanted to do something special for the neighbor kids, without doing too much. I realize that Christmas gifts are not a big focus during the holidays for people living in such extreme poverty. But, I wanted these sweet kids to have a special moment. So, I went into town to see what I might find for them. At the grocery store they have a few small toys and dolls for sale. I bought the youngest girl, Michele (3 yrs old) a doll. Then I got Nicole (5-6 yrs old) a doll as well as a new hair brush. There are two little boys, John-Carlos (4yrs old) and Mikel (7-8 yrs old), I got them each big yellow tractors. Then I went to the department store in town to see what I might find for the two teenager girls Ana (14) and Adriana (13), I got Ana a pair of earrings and some yummy smelling body spray and a hair brush, for Adriana I got a jewelry making kit and the same body spray and a hair brush. I also got the mom a pair of earrings and some body spray too. Then I had a really fun time wrapping the gifts up really beautifully as I listened to Christmas music. This was so much fun for me. Normally, when buying gifts for people it just feels so different to me, more of an obligation, or an expectation. Its not really special, everyone already has so much and I don’t know anyone who can’t afford to buy what I’m giving them for Christmas. These gifts were totally unexpected and I’m sure they were the only gifts these children were getting for Christmas. They were thrilled beyond belief! The smiles were the best, most wonderful gifts I think I have ever gotten for Christmas. It made me feel so good to be able to do something so small to me, but so big to them. I know I probably could have gotten them things that were more practical like food for the family or new shoes, and in the future I may do something like that. This time, I just wanted to spoil them a little and I enjoyed giving them things they would never spend money on themselves. This is one new tradition I hope I get to continue enjoying for many years to come.

Everything, including our holidays are new and different now that we are living in Boquete. We haven’t put up a tree since living here , mostly because we haven’t been living in our own place and all our decorations are still in storage. We did bring a fake tree, of course Scott hates it, he would much prefer to go into the woods and chop down a tree, but thats just not gonna happen here, unless he is willing to go for a Banana Christmas tree. hah! So, if we decide to decorate next year it will be with the fake tree. Who knows if we’ll feel the need to put up a tree, we haven’t really missed it.

The Panamanians certainly love to decorate for Christmas. We don’t go out at night a lot, but when we do I just love to see all the lights and ornaments they put on their houses. Many people seem to put up their trees on the front porch instead of inside. They also use a lot of ribbon and sparkly tinsel all over the front of the house. But one Panama tradition that surprised me this year happened at midnight on Christmas Eve! Oh my goodness, we were sound asleep and then I woke up to what sounded like mayhem! I got up and looked out the window to see the entire town of Boquete all lit up by the most spectacular Fireworks1!! All over town people were setting off these beautiful fireworks. I just had to go outside on the terrace and watch this wonderful celebration going on. Unlike the states, and especially California, anyone can buy fireworks here. And I’m not talkin’ about little sparklers! No! They buy serious fireworks and they know how to use em’! Let me tell you! I can’t wait to see what happens on New Years Eve! Should be lots of fun!! You may be wondering why I didn’t see this last year…well, last year we were living in Alto Lino, which is on the other side of the valley . Its much quieter over there and although we could hear some of the neighbors setting of plenty of fireworks it was nothing like what went on over here on Christmas Eve. So I think I may have yet another new tradition…getting up at midnight for the fireworks show….I doubt we’d be able to stay awake that late! Hah! Who knows…we may just have to buy some fireworks for ourselves!!

So, you see, we’ve only just had our second Christmas here in Panama and we’re well on our way to having so many new traditions to look forward to next year. And that ache in my heart that I mentioned, well I doubt that’s ever gonna just ‘go away’. How could I ever stop missing people who aren’t here with us? Nope, I think that part of the holidays is just one more thing I’m just going to have to get used to. It really helps to have Skype and FaceTime, we were so happy to connect with those who had the time to stop and sit in front of their computers for a little while and spend time with us. Modern technology really is great in that way. Being able to chat like we were there with them makes me so happy. It was a gift of time which we know is a precious commodity especially during the holidays. I hope whatever your traditions are, that you enjoyed every minute of them and that your new year is filled with lots of things that make you smile!

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4 responses »

  1. What a wonderful post, Holly! Linda and I are really quite envious since our Christmas traditions have become such traditions that it feels more like we’re going through the motions. That’s not to suggest we don’t have a great time — Candlelight Mass and then driving around to see the lights on Christmas Eve and then getting up to a big breakfast, opening presents, seeing a movie (“Into the Woods” with Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp) and then dinner with our closest friends — but we’re ready to create some new traditions. Thanks for sharing a glimpse into the new traditions you’re forming — it just makes us want to hurry up and get back to Boquete ASAP!!

    T

  2. When you are established you could go to CA for Christmas sometimes. How about those Latin lovers in training must have been fun wooded by three. Could give children a Christmas stamp on hand to stop parents. Here in OZ if we are cementing neighbors get any leftover for small jobs, maybe if you have some later, bottom of hill could get a small square for floor. Glad you had a joyful Christmas. Next year will be in own home. Yippee!!!

  3. Holly, thanks for all the information you have provided to so many people on so many subjects in your blog. I just got current after starting reading from the beginning a few months ago. My wife Maxi and I have been in Bocas Del Toro since Dec 26 and take the bus to Boquete tomorrow. We will be spending about two weeks with Boquete as our base to see how we like it as a possible retirement location. I have really enjoyed your perspective on everything and value all that I have learned about how things get done in Panama; both your trials and triumphs. Keep posting.

    • Awe! Thanks Ken! It sounds like you and Maxi are on quite an adventure! If you’d like to connect for dinner while your here in Boquete, let me know. I’ll send you a private email so you can contact me. Cheers!

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